Changes in the status of p53 affect drug sensitivity to thymidylate synthase (TS) inhibitors by altering TS levels

E. Giovannetti, H. H J Backus, D. Wouters, C. G. Ferreira, V. M M Van Houten, R. H. Brakenhoff, M. F. Poupon, A. Azzarello, H. M. Pinedo, G. J. Peters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Colorectal cancer (CRC) resistance to fluoropyrimidines and other inhibitors of thymidylate synthase (TS) is a serious clinical problem often associated with increased intracellular levels of TS. Since the tumour suppressor gene p53, which is mutated in 50% of CRC, regulates the expression of several genes, it may modulate TS activity, and changes in the status of p53 might be responsible for chemoresistance. Therefore, this study was aimed to investigate TS levels and sensitivity to TS inhibitors in wild-type (wt) and mutant (mt) p53 CRC cells, Lovo and WiDr, respectively, transfected with mt and wt p53. Lovo 175X2 cells (transfected with mt p53) were more resistant to 5-fluorouracil (5-FU; 2-fold), nolatrexed (3-fold), raltitrexed (3-fold) and pemetrexed (10-fold) in comparison with the wt p53 parental cells Lovo 92. Resistance was associated with an increase in TS protein expression and catalytic activity, which might be caused by the loss of the inhibitory effect on the activity of TS promoter or by the lack of TS mRNA degradation, as suggested by the reversal of TS expression to the levels of Lovo 92 cells by adding actinomycin. In contrast, Lovo li cells, characterized by functionally inactive p53, were 3-13-fold more sensitive to nolatrexed, raltitrexed and pemetrexed, and had a lower TS mRNA, protein expression and catalytic activity than Lovo 92. However, MDM-2 expression was significantly higher in Lovo li, while no significant differences were observed in Lovo 175X2 cells with respect to Lovo 92. Finally, mt p53 WiDr transfected with wt p53 were not significantly different from mt p53 WiDr cells with respect to sensitivity to TS inhibitors or TS levels. Altogether, these results indicate that changes in the status of p53, can differently alter sensitivity to TS inhibitors by affecting TS levels, depending on activity or cell line, and might explain the lack of clear correlation between mutations in p53 and clinical outcome after chemotherapy with TS inhibitors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)769-775
Number of pages7
JournalBritish Journal of Cancer
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 12 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • 5-FU and antifolates
  • Colon
  • p53
  • Thymidylate synthase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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